Pacifist policies of Nehru
In 1962 the pacifist policies of Pandit Nehru bore fruit and the Chinese Army mounted an offensive against the weakly held northern border in Ladakh and NEFA. The Chinese in a short time routed the Indian forces and the plains of India beckoned them But for some inexplicable reason they stopped their advance and declared a unilateral cease fire. Maybe their objective of cutting India to size and humiliating Nehru had been achieved. Gen Kaul and Gen Thapar the favorites of Nehru and the Defense Minister Krishna Menon had to go and the Indian nation did alot of introspection.
Taking over IV Corps
The general appointed to take over 4 Corps at Tezpur was Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh. He quickly got down to the task and restored army morale and confidence in the eastern theatre. Later he was moved as commander 33 corps at Bengudubi near Siliguri.
War clouds were building up in the western theater as Pakistan under Gen Ayub khan thought it the right time to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all. They thus sent their raiders into the Kashmir valley and the Indian government had a difficult decision to make. But Shastri the then Indian Prime Minister reversed the negative policies of Nehru and adopted a proactive approach. He ordered the Army to open a second front on the Lahore sector.
Harbaksh as Commander against Pakistan 1965
In the mean time after his posting with the 33 Corps, Harbaksh was appointed as the GOC-in-C of the Western Command, whose area used to stretch from down south to Kashmir. He led the Western Command successfully against the Pakistan Army along the entire border. The outstanding leadership of Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh played a key role in boosting the morale of a defeated armyturning it into a striking force within just three years of the Chinese encounter.
Harbaksh Saves India
However one factor must be mentioned. During the war in 1965 the Pakistan army equipped with Patton Tanks mounted an offensive in the Chamb jaurian sector. The Army Chief General Chaudhry panicked and ordered a withdrawal to the south of the Beas River to Harbaksh. This is confirmed by the war dispatches of Harbaksh as well as Gen Kaul in his book. History will forever remember that Harbaksh kept his nerve and disobeyed the COAS order. Punjab was saved. He was also a man decision as can be seen from the fact that he dismissed Mag Gen Niranjan Prasad for cowardice during the same war. Independent observers have confirmed this decision as correct.
The general was honored with a Padma Vibhusan, a rare honor for a soldier. He was to be made the Army chief and reports suggest that Sardar Swarn Singh the Defense minister was in his favor. But Indira Gandhi overnight bypassed Harbaksh in favor of Maneckshaw. The general retired from active service in 1969.
This was a cruel decision to a man who had done so much for India, but as a true soldier he took it in his stride and like the saying as an old soldier he just faded away. But Indians must remember that on that fateful day when Harbaksh took the decision not to fall back to the Beas river, he saved India. Let his souls rest in peace.